Since the acquisition of Virgin America, one word has been on the lips of Alaska Airlines executives: “California.” This was its opportunity to expand, and while it’s true that Alaska had its own operations in the Golden State before, its strength was still in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
California is its own beast. Every major carrier, including Southwest Airlines, has a hub in Los Angles. (I used to think “Southwest” stood for southern California, not realizing until I was older that it was founded in Texas.) San Francisco is a fortress hub for United Airlines but is also very competitive. And there are a lot more people than you’ll find in the northwest. By comparison to the Bay Area, I always though Seattle felt positively rural.
On Wednesday Alaska announced a whole slate of new flights from California hub cities to Anchorage as well as second- and third-tier destinations in the Northwest such as Spokane and Missoula. There are also added frequencies within California and to destinations on the East Coast such as Chicago, Boston, and Orlando.
I’ve always though Alaska Airlines is great about providing a very dense network. Some routes may not have the frequency you want, but there is usually a nonstop that you can’t get anywhere else. That density is highest within the Pacific Northwest. Now we’re seeing it expand to California. After all, there must be someone who wants to get from Los Angeles to Missoula without a connection.
However, Cranky Flier has a good post that considers what wasn’t well publicized: All the cancellations and shifts to seasonal service required to free up planes for the new routes. While Alaska is making it easier to in the western half of the United States and adding some frequencies to key cities, it’s cutting back on some other routes to the Midwest and East Coast.
Overall I think this is good news. Alaska’s recent earning announcements show that it is becoming more profitable as the costs of its merger wind down and the benefits begin to materialize. All of its employees have signed new contracts. It’s one of the least eventful mergers in recent memory.
Hats off to Alaska as it continues to experiment with new service. I’ll continue to keep a light on in Austin should they want to get serious and open a new mid-continent hub.